“Doors open 6.30pm – carriages at 11pm”
You certainly got your money’s worth visiting the panto in 1873!
I recently bought a programme for the pantomime “Puss In Boots” at the Princess’s Theatre Royal in London’s Oxford Street. If you’ve ever shopped in Woolworth there, or perhaps at HMV or call in today at Sportsdirect, you will be entering what was once a magnificent theatre at Number 73 Oxford Street.
This programme has the front cover taken up with James Guiver the manager presenting the most popular couple of the era- The Taylor and Burton of the theatrical world, Mr & Mrs Rousby in the premier of “Griselda”.
Turn the page and you find that following on from that “Turgid Melodrama” as it had been described, a mere two hours later at 9pm the pantomime “Little Puss In Boots or Harlequin. The Cruel Ogre and The Miller’s Son” began.
The programme is full of puns and reveals the plot as each scene passes. Notably this version has not yet acquired the Pantomime Dame, and still has the sub title involving Harlequin, although by now the actual Harlequinade has moved to the very end, it is tagged on after the Grand Transformation when Luna appeared in her car (a carriage I assume?) and a flying effect took several of the cast up into the flies in a chariot!
The convention of having an interval was not created until the 1890’s at Drury Lane, so the audience either came to see the bits they wanted to see, left before the Harlequinade or sat through the entire four hours of entertainment. Added to the quite lengthy Harlequinade was a troupe of performing dogs which Mr Lorenzo repeated in the matinee performances every Wednesday and Saturday when Mr & Mrs Rousby got a lie-in, and just the pantomime and Harlequinade were performed at 2pm. Interesting that these matinee performances were called “Morning” performances- that term seemed to apply to any show not performed at night in that era.
The public flocked to see Clara Rousby, described as the most beautiful woman on the stage at that time by the Daily News. She and her husband created Historic roles- the public wept as she portrayed St Joan at the stake, and her portrait was admired at the Royal Academy. She and her Actor Manager husband William made a fortune before retiring.
I never knew that there was a Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, one that presented Plays, Opera and Pantomime, and decided to seek out where the Stage Door must once have been. The front is easy to spot, recently Uniqlo Store, HMV and now Sports Direct, and it is situated between Winsley Street and The Adam & Eve Court, an alleyway running into Oxford Street. The Stage door was in Eastcastle Street.
The Theatre where Little Puss In Boots was performed was the second building on the site- this one opened in 1840, and was demolished only forty years later. A mere twenty three weeks later the new “Royal Princess” Theatre opened in 1880 and continued until it too was demolished in 1931, after nearly twenty years of non theatrical use, to become the new Woolworths Store in 1931.
The auditorium looks very cosy in these illustrations, with mostly boxes to sit in, going up into the rafters.
It seems strange today to imagine seeing a lengthy play followed by a pantomime with many scenic changes and effects, followed by a knock about Harlequinade of comic songs and sketches- sausages, red hot pokers and slapsticks… all with no interval- but then those were the good old days!